Jona Koekelcoren is Community & Customer Success Manager at BeatSwitch. Aside from this role he also dedicates his time to coaching artists, co-organising festivals and club shows, and was also assistant label manager at Waste My Records during past years. His passion lies where music, marketing, technology and project management intersect.
We’ve already covered the other extreme: what to do when your festival is facing a heat wave. Now, at the peak of summer, storms are showing up and wreaking havoc for quite a few festivals. Some of them made it through (more or less), but some weren’t up to deal with the damage a storm can do. But what does it really mean when you have to cancel something you’ve worked on all year?
First, a State of the Union
Pitchfork Music Festival had to evacuate Union Park, Chicago; Amsterdam Live On Stage and Welcome to the Future (Amsterdam too) were cancelled entirely; and in June, Firefly Festival in Delaware had to evacuate during a Kings of Leon headlining set. All dramatic and high profile examples. For all of these well-known festivals, at least five smaller ones have had to cancel as well.
The risk of running festivals is not news, nor is the fact that bad weather can be disastrous for both the people behind it, and its visitors (we Belgians still remember one of the most dramatic storms to hit a festival like it was yesterday).
But one thing that is rarely discussed is what it means for an organisation that has to deal with a cancellation, or a disaster that size. What’s the financial and logistical impact, and how do you survive a cancellation? Let’s find out about some best practices to protect yourself against the worst circumstances.
1. Festival insurance. Insurance, insurance, insurance
Too often do promoters still think it doesn’t hurt to save on insurance fees. What you don’t spend on insurance, you can use to invest in line-up or decorations, right? Well, it’s all worthless if you end up having to cancel and have no insurance.
Something can go wrong any time of the year, under any circumstances – in or outdoor, doesn’t matter. Make sure you’re covered for risks that you did or didn’t anticipate.
This really is the main dividing factor between going bankrupt or staying (more or less) healthy. We can’t stress it enough.
Just how rough the general impact of a cancellation will be for you depends on how much you rely on that one festival for your resources. If it’s one of many festivals your company is involved in or promotes, then the impact will most likely be lower. If it’s your only festival, it will be a lot tougher to be resilient – and for young promoters and nonprofits, it can be the end of the festival for good.
2. A Festival Contingency Plan
Obviously, a professional contingency plan is too huge a document to describe in short here. But there are a few things you can do to get the basics right.
First of all, you’ll need a professional meteo service. The key to avoiding catastrophies is anticipating the weather, and Googling the weather forecast just won’t do. If an onsite consultant doesn’t fit in your budget, there are a few professional online services that offer subscriptions (in Belgium, the Royal Meteorological Institute has great professional services). A nice looking international one is Telemet, which offers meteo services for both festivals and films.
Second, you need to establish a line of command. Who is in charge of making decisions, and who informs the next person? Establish a strong list, and inform your team beforehand. Depending on your size, you might need lines of command per stage, and one at top level to coordinate them all.
Lastly, you need scenarios per category of wind power. Contingency plans depend mostly on wind power. Rain only becomes an issue in the most extreme cases. But when the wind picks up speed, pieces of decoration fall down, screens come down, tents become unreliable. Find out how much your site can take and establish steps to cope with different categories of wind power. Evacuation and / or cancellation is the worst case, so you save that for last, when wind power exceeds what your site can cope with or what your insurance covers.
Figure out how to communicate to your team, artists, and visitors. Establish evacuation routes.
3. A Recovery Plan
Caterers gave buy-ins. Sponsors made deposits. Visitors bought tickets (unless if you’re a free festival, or didn’t sell much in presale – in which case the scenario isn’t getting much better). Will you give full refunds? What about the logistics bills, the stages you’ve put up, the backlines you’ve rented?
Take a step back. Draft up a plan. What’s your current financial situation like? As always, chop a big problem up into smaller, bitesize steps. Then act upon them.
There are some great examples out there. Pukkelpop gave ticket owners from the storm edition free drinks & food vouchers for the next three editions. Ultrasonic accepts tickets for the cancelled 2015 edition for 2016 and throws in two drink tickets plus Ultrasonic sunglasses. Studio Stekker / In Het Park opened late, so they allowed visitors to each bring one friend to the festival for free. In return, there were no refunds. Just three examples – be creative, think about what you can afford, but always keep everything centered around your visitors’ best interests!
4. A Clear and Emphatic Communication Plan
Sure, no one is more bummed out than you about a cancellation. But your attendees were probably looking forward to this for months. They’ve bought tickets, scheduled transport and accommodation too, have been hyping up with their friends. Let them know that you understand that and tell them just how much you were looking forward to it too.
Promise solutions and that you will keep people posted. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Your visitors will understand that you need more time if you’re communicating emphatically and transparently. They will bite the bullet because they know you’re doing it too.